Murals for design and depth

Funny how life works. If it weren’t for a bed and breakfast that Ray Boas, a book dealer, and his wife, Cathy, stayed at while looking to relocate to Walpole, they might not have been inspired to have a Rufus Porter-style mural in their dining room. And if Dutchie Perron, a muralist, hadn’t been looking for a book about Rufus Porter, perhaps she wouldn’t ever have crossed paths with Ray and Cathy.

But that’s just what happened.

“Before we moved to New Hampshire, we started staying at a bed and breakfast in Temple, which had a Rufus Porter mural in the dining room that we enjoyed very much,” says Ray. “One of the books that always sells rapidly for me is ‘Rufus Porter: Yankee Pioneer’ by Jean Lipman, published in 1968.”

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“I found on the Internet that Ray had a book about Rufus Porter, and we got to talking about mural painting,” says Perron. Coincidentally, she had just painted a mural for a house in Westmoreland, the next town over from Walpole, which was going to be on a house tour. So Perron told the couple to go see it.

“We went on the house tour, saw her work, loved it and came right back and said, ‘Come do our walls,’” says Ray.

Imagine, if you will, that you were a homeowner in the early 1800s who might want to decorate your parlor (or dining room). The choices were limited: buy exorbitant fancy French wallpaper depicting Rome or Paris, or hire a (much cheaper) itinerant painter to do a mural that could be personalized and even embellished the way you wanted. Such was the way Porter — a self-taught artist — worked. Traveling from town to town, Porter’s painting was scenic and incorporated personal touches such as local buildings, rivers and trees.

Perron says she also likes to put familiar buildings in the area into the murals that she does. For the Boases’ mural, the three of them looked through the Porter book for inspiration, then together came up with ideas to incorporate recognizable landmarks as well. On one wall there’s the Walpole Common with the Boases’ home depicted, a neighbor’s house, the church and the town hall, “all done as if they would have looked in the 1840s when Rufus Porter would have been in this area,” says Ray.

Another wall shows the White Mountains, the same as a scene from the book. One corner of the wall proved to be a challenge, however. Both the Boases and Perron were stumped as to what to paint there — until Ray stumbled across a picture of the Old Man of the Mountain in the book that fit perfectly. Other details throughout include the first bridge across the Connecticut River between Walpole and Bellows Falls, The Old Mountain House Inn, waterfalls, trees and fern fronds between the two windows.

“The mural evolved,” says Cathy. “We had all of this wall space and we weren’t precisely sure what we would do on the day Dutchie arrived. We had the town scene in mind. But from there we got great ideas from putting our heads together.” Perron says that most of her clients have an idea of what they want — “and that’s good; it’s easier to start. But sometimes they’ll say, ‘Do whatever you want,’ and I talk to them and try to figure out what would be good for them to be happy.” She points to one couple in Peterborough who moved from an old house to a brand new one. Perron included many things from the old house in the mural for them, including a clump of birch trees that the owner had planted at the old house. “Every time he came into the room he said to me, ‘You won my heart over when you put those trees in,’” says Perron.

Perron’s technique involves painting the sky first, in a sunset with blue shades down into peach or pink all the way around the room. “That way I have the same horizon, so it helps the flow,” she says. Another helpful detail — and one of her favorites to paint — is trees. “They’re fun, and you can be so creative with them. You can make them fit around the room.”

The mural took four weeks, with Perron working every weekday from 9 to 4. In the end, Ray says, the room now has more depth. It opens it up and seems like a larger room, he adds. “People walk in and their jaws drop, because it’s so unusual.” Perron agrees: “It’s now warm and pleasant. It took a plain, nondescript room and made a big difference.”

Cathy adds that they love sharing their new room with anyone who wants to look at it. “People just knock on our door and ask if they can see it,” she says. “Even our FedEx driver came running down the driveway wanting to see it. There’s no sense having these things if we can’t share with others.” NH